Maja Aro’s HOODS is about as complete an execution of a clever idea for a short that could be used as a launching point for a series or a feature as you can get. A revenge story, where a granddaughter goes after the man that killed her grandmother is steeped in both the familiar Little Red Riding Hood and Robin Hood story themes and tropes. Stylish to nth degree, and detailed as well, the film is a very enjoyable dive into a fantasy world with some heady feminist undertones. The film recently won the “Best Short Film” Award at the Women Texas Film Festival and it’s easy to understand why. Director/writer Aro used everything at her disposal (including her deft production and costume design skills and her husband, Jeff Aro’s editing, producing, and fight choreography skills to deliver a rich introduction of what she is capable of with as big a canvas as someone could provide her.
1.While it isn’t hard to surmise how someone that works on stunts for “Once Upon a Time” might cook up a mashup of Robin Hood and Little Red Riding Hood, what was it about this idea that inspired such a lavish short film?
Short answer, my vivid imagination! It actually started as a very different script inspired by a video game. I wanted to write something with a badass female lead, then she evolved into this motorbike riding little red riding hood. I love the esthetic of dieselpunk, so the world was heavily influenced by that. It all kind of evolved from there. The world is big, and even though the short is just a little slice of an introduction to it, I didn’t want to feel half assed just because it was a short. I had an amazing DOP, Stirling Bancroft who helped me pull off the big world building that I was after. I pulled a lot of favors to have as much production value as I could afford. I also had some funding from MPPIA (Motion Picture Production Industry Association) and CreativeBC which I was awarded after a live pitch of the project. That came in handy to help with the locations, vehicles, props and costumes. I went to school for fashion design, so I had a hand in the production design and I designed and created all of the costumes for the film. It was my first film, so I wanted to go big or go home.
2. You wrote and directed, and your husband Jeff produced and did stunt coordination, but can you describe informally how the two of you work together and what the dynamic is like on the set?
Jeff actually edited the film as well, so we not only worked together on set, but also throughout all of post as well. We met on set, so I guess we’ve always been good at working together. We both have a background in stunts, so we often work together. In the past few years with both of us stepping into stunt coordinating we end up working for each other often as well! We are both very chill, and have always had an ease where one takes over where the other leaves off. I think we both just leave our egos at the door, but are so on the same page that nothing gets dropped or missed, which is awesome!
For HOODS, we both had clear roles, and we stuck to them so the crew was never confused as to whom a question should be directed to. We enjoy working together and try to do it as often as we can. It’s nice to have a shorthand and another set of eyes that knows what you want.
3. Describe something that you don’t think directors get right about shooting stunt sequences?
Making sure that there is heart in the action, sometimes they forget that the audience still needs to feel for the characters throughout an action sequence, if there is no heart or its not in character, it doesn’t matter what cool stunt we just did.
Also not knowing their angles, camera speeds and lenses that can help make the action look more dynamic.
I’ve been lucky as a stunt coordinator that I have worked with many directors who trust me to help set up the cameras to get the best shots for their action sequences.
4. The production design and the titles and credit sequences look like the money spent on them could’ve funded a couple more short films. Can you describe with some detail how you pulled that off and the thought process behind the design concepts for both?
The production design for the film was a lot of my imagination, and then a lot of family and friend work weekends! We built the hotel set in our basement, so many construction, painting BBQ days were had. A good friend owns an antique shop and lent us a lot of the props and set decor that were used. I had a lot of the locations in mind when I was writing the script so I had clear images of those going into designing the look in each location. I saved a lot by modifying thrift store finds for background, and then designing and sewing the costumes for all the leads (I did enlist the help of a friend and my Mom to help sew multiples.). I used the budget that I was awarded to get the great locations. Really it was a lot of volunteer hours put into building everything and being creative with what we had.
The end credits were created by our friend Patrick Omara. I wanted them to have that retro James Bond intro look but with bow and arrows instead of guns, I drew up some loose storyboard for it, Jeff and I shot some silhouettes of me, then Patrick got creative and animated it into the masterpiece that is the end credits. I really wanted them to feel like TV series credits.
5. Seriously, does a hot date with you and Jeff involve an empty gym a handful of random weapons?
Ha! Usually we get asked if we use the rigging gear in our gym/living room! We are actually pretty mellow and tame when we’re not at work! We are foodies, so dates usually involve a lot of eating!!
We do have one silly thing we do every year where we have a random bet around Christmas time, whoever loses has to take the other on the “best date EVER” in the next calendar year. Those get fun!
This past weekend we had a pretty hot date, literally. We did some fire tests for a stunt we had this week. We had our friend Colin from Fire 4 Hire come over and we used his fire gel to do some burns on our skin (protected by the gel), then we jumped our dirtbikes into an airbag. (Freestyle Progessions)
6. In many ways, the film can be seen (and enjoyed) as a feminist reimagining of a familiar universe. What was tricky for you in achieving the right balance between that and the nods to the two “Hoods” touch points that we are all familiar with?
It wasn’t meant to be a feminist piece, but I guess as a feminist and someone who always strives for equality, it just ended up like that. That’s my voice as a filmmaker! In my head, I always just think, well what if…. And that’s how Robyn Hood became a woman. Within a created world, it just felt right. The family connection felt tighter. Of course, on that note the short also leaves a lot of those family questions unanswered, but there is a lot more going on and a lot bigger history that we only allude to in the short. I wanted the characters to have that familiarity, and to weave in aspects of their stories that audiences know, but then throw them in this new world and see where they go.
7. Popcorn or Candy?
The popcorn that I call crack popcorn where its half cheese popcorn and half caramel corn, its that sweet and salty goodness that’s kinda the best of both worlds.
HOODS will next screen at The Tijuana Film and Food Festival (September 28-30).